Will 2016 go down as the year Hollywood finally collapsed under the weight of all its sequels, franchises, and cinematic universes? The year so far has been beset by box office disappointments for major studios that, with the notable exception of Disney, have struggled to turn substantial profits on their big-budget tentpole releases, which today require far more marketing money to compete with the myriad of other entertainment options most audiences have online and on television.
Where studios could once rely on sequels and franchise entries to pull in huge numbers no matter the critical response, it seems viewers are starting to tire of paying $12 or more a ticket for lowest common denominator entertainment, resulting in a correlation between box office numbers and Tomatometer scores. In the midst of summer blockbuster season, it’s hard to say the precise reasons for the year’s many box office disappointments or how they’ll affect the future of American filmmaking, but we can at least look at a few of Hollywood’s most recent duds and try to understand what went wrong.
1. The BFG
Steven Spielberg returns to the family-friendly spectacle that gave him such landmark hits as E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark in his adaptation of the kid-lit classic The BFG, but the heartfelt magic just isn’t there this time around. Mark Rylance plays the titular big friendly giant, a convincing and expressive effect who’s unfortunately surrounded by less convincing ones, making for a film that uses CGI to numbing excess. The wide-eyed child protagonist is a total bore devoid of any characteristics outside her British accent, and the story is almost non-existent. Despite a few moments of standard Spielberg brilliance, The BFG has met lukewarm response and opened to a weak $18 million on Fourth of July weekend, possibly since theaters already have an excess of kid-friendly films like Finding Dory.
[Update, 8/16/16: As of August 14, ‘The BFG’ has pulled in only $128 million in worldwide box office, still short of its approximately $140 million production budget, according to Box Office Mojo.]
Based on a beloved cult classic of the same name, Ghostbusters was an attempt to reboot the franchise with an all-female cast. However, despite being directed by the talented Paul Feig and featuring some of today’s best comedic actresses (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones), Ghostbusters was unable to match the success of Ivan Reitman’s original. While any remake of a fan-favorite such as 1984’s Ghostbusters is bound to face an uphill battle from skeptical fans, this particular reboot faced even bigger obstacles, thanks to a bizarre outpouring of misogynistic and even racist attacks on its cast, as the L.A. Times noted.
While it’s unclear how much that vitriol impacted the movie’s box office take, it definitely didn’t perform as well as the studio hoped. As of August 14, Ghostbusters has only made $122 million at the domestic box office — still short of its $144 million production budget, per Box Office Mojo. Foreign box office pushes its total to $194 million, but that probably won’t be enough to justify a sequel. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ghostbusters needs to make $300 million in order to break even. Instead, it appears to be heading for an approximately $70 million loss for the studio. Which is too bad because, while it may not be as good as the original, it was good enough to earn a 73% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Ice Age: Collision Course
The Ice Age franchise has officially worn out its welcome. The fifth installment in the Fox and Blue Sky Studios animated franchise landed in theaters on July 22, but as of August 14, has only earned $59 million in domestic box office (per Box Office Mojo). Pair Ice Age: Collision Course’s low domestic box office with its atrocious reviews (an 11% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes), and you’re looking at an unqualified flop. However, as much as we’d like to promise you that the Ice Age franchise is truly extinct, we should note that while the film bombed in the U.S., it has also made an astounding $247 million in foreign box office. Perhaps Ice Age: Collision Course director Michael Thurmeier summed it up best with this tweet:
Welp, that didn’t go quite like I imagined it. #pleasebabyjesusletinternationalboxofficestaystrong pic.twitter.com/xSVPeohwt0
— Michael Thurmeier (@mthurmeier) July 23, 2016
4. Nine Lives
Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey wastes his talents on this forgettable family comedy that has been panned by critics and largely avoided by audiences. In the film, a workaholic billionaire (Spacey), becomes trapped in the body of a house cat after shopping at a magical pet store. Released on August 5, Nine Lives has since only coughed up a paltry $13.6 million in domestic box office (per Box Office Mojo). “Not meow, not ever,” said the unusually pithy critics’ consensus at Rotten Tomatoes. And that’s really all you need to know.
First of all, let’s give credit to director Timur Bekmambetov for daring to remake what is widely considered to be one of the best films ever made. The original Ben-Hur won 11 Oscars and was even selected by the Library of Congress for preservation to the National Film Registry. Unfortunately, we doubt that the 2016 remake will ever be given that honor. The recent remake of Ben-Hur was a massive flop that failed to impress either critics or audiences.
“How do you fight an idea? By filming a remake that has too few of its own, and tries to cover it up with choppy editing and CGI,” notes the critics consensus at Rotten Tomatoes, where the film currently has a dismal 26% approval rating. And the commercial side of the coin isn’t much better. Per Box Office Mojo, Ben-Hur pulled in only $26.4 million domestically against an estimated production budget of $100 million. Even after adding in the foreign grosses of approximately $68 million, Ben-Hur failed to make a profit.
Additional reporting by Nathanael Arnold